A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10. d). He had been overjoyed by Timothy’s good news.
*But Timothy has just now come to us from you*, only a short time before Paul sat down to write this letter, *and has brought good news* (literally, ‘evangelized, the only time the word is used in the New Testament when it does not refer to the gospel) *about your faith and love* (6a), ‘the sum total of godliness’. In addition, *He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and*, as a further item of good news *that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you* (6b), These three pieces of information almost overwhelmed the apostle. He could not contain himself. He breaks out: *Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith* (7). Why should *your* faith encourage *us*, do you ask? Because our life is bound up in yours. *For now we really live*, ‘now we can breathe again’ (JB), now we have been given ‘a new lease of life’, *since you are standing firm in the Lord* (8). The good news also leads Paul to thanksgiving: *How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?* (9). And next the apostle is prompted to pray: *Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith* (10). Since earlier in the letter Paul has described himself as having ‘worked night and day’ (2:9), partly in preaching, partly in tent-making, it is difficult to see how he could pray night and day as well. Perhaps his activities overlapped one another, so that he found that he could pray even while he was engaged in his tent-making. What he says he prayed for was that now, in defiance of Satan’s hindrances, he might be able to visit them in order to make up their spiritual deficiencies. ‘Supply’ is *katartizo*, meaning to restore, equip or complete. It was used in various contexts, for example of a fisherman repairing his nets (Mk.1:19), a surgeon setting bones, and a politician reconciling factions. The deficiencies Paul detected in their faith will have been ‘gaps’ (JB, 1 Thess 3:10 footnote c) both in their doctrinal and in their ethical understanding. He longed to see them complete, whole, mature Christians. Hence his intended visit. Prayer for the increase of their faith was vital. Letters too can encourage and establish people in their faith. But there is no substitute for the stimulus of face-to-face fellowship, when we are ‘mutually encouraged by each other’s faith (Rom.1:12).
e). He had been praying for them all the time (3:11-13).
Having mentioned in verse 10 his earnest and continuous prayers, he immediately breaks into prayer in his letter. He expresses three precise and particular petitions, namely that God will bring him to see the Thessalonians again, and that he will increase both their love and their holiness. First, *Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you* (11). It is an amazing bracketing on a level of equality, as in 1:1, of God the Father and Jesus the Lord, and this time it is the more remarkable because the double subject (Father and Son) is followed by a singular verb (*kateuthynai*). There follows a wish in the form of a prayer, that God will ‘make straight’ or level the way which Satan has cut up, or remove the obstacles with which he has strewn it (2:18). Paul’s prayer was answered, although only (so far as we know) about five years later when he visited Macedonia twice towards the end of his third missionary journey(Acts 20:1-3).
Secondly, Paul prays: *May the Lord (meaning Jesus, as always in the New Testament when ‘the Lord’ occurs without further designation) make your love increase and overflow for each other*, in the Christian community, *and for everyone else*, ‘the whole human race’ (JB), *just as ours does for you* (12). It is impressive to note this prayer’s double progress, on the one hand from each other to everybody and on the other from increasing to overflowing, the latter ‘implying an *overplus* of love’.
Thirdly, Paul prays: *May he strengthen (sterizai again, as in 3:2) your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones* (13), which could mean ‘angels’ or ‘saints’, but is best understood as including both, namely ‘all who belong to him’ (JBP). There is no greater stimulus to holiness than the vision of the Parousia, when Jesus comes in glory with his holy ones. In order that we may be ‘blameless and holy’ then, Paul prays that we may be inwardly strengthened now. For sanctification is a present, continuing process; perfection awaits the Parousia. The ‘Amen’ of JB (1 Thess 3:13 footnote e) is omitted from nearly all English versions. But it is quite well attested, and it seems a fitting climax to Paul’s prayer.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.